Above all else, Liminoid/Lifeforms is a definitive statement. Baker clearly states his objective with the first few notes of “Liminoid Part I,” never wavering from his desire to capture the elements of classical and romantic composition with modern techniques. The result is an album that is warm; thick with texture and sonic craftsmanship. Albums with this much attention to detail often crumble under the weight of expectation but Baker has nothing to atone for once the final note of “Lifeforms” fades into the abyss.
The greatest accomplishment of Baker’s foray into the classical is in its simplicity. Much like the great masters of composition, Baker is never afraid to do too much by doing too little. Each of the four parts that comprise “Liminoid” joins seamlessly. Not until the soaring vocals of “Liminoid (Part IV)” can we begin to notice how Baker has carefully flirted with the grandiose by indulging it so completely. The subtle hints of cello and violin coupled with the restrained guitars and percussion are slow to reveal themselves as something more than Baker’s usual fare. “Liminoid (Part IV)” becomes the unveiling of Baker’s masterpiece; when the quiet decoration that has been painstakingly built for 22-minutes engulfs the classical philosophy in a fiery pillar of modern ingenuity. In spite of its ambitious nature, the whole of “Liminoid” does not falter for even a single note. This is proof that experimental music can be manipulated using the principles of Romanticism without compromising the chaos theory and fringe accessibility that has found deep roots in various genres.
After the breathtaking beauty of “Liminoid,” Baker risks toppling his opus with the sedentary drone of “Lifeforms.” Yet the risk is well worth it, providing the perfect counterpoint to elegance of “Liminoid” while also proving to be its mirror—albeit of the warped, funhouse variety. Where “Liminoid” was poised and polite, “Lifeforms” is a test of patience and will. It maintains the grace of its segmented lead-in but the restraint of “Liminoid” is replaced with rambunctiousness. “Lifeforms” isn’t abrasive but a piece built on dissonance and misplacement. Its parts, unlike “Liminoid,” are those of worn jigsaw puzzles; connections don’t fit as they should, the tabs are frayed beyond recognition, and there are holes from missing pieces. In this there is a majesty that admirers of “The Ugly Duckling” (and its ilk) will appreciate. “Lifeforms,” when held against “Liminoid,” will seem the tremorring visage; but as a mirror and a companion, it divulges the secrets of success found within “Liminoid,” while annihilating the measuring stick of beauty used for far too long.
The labeling of Liminoid/Lifeforms as a high form of art may be a bit of hyperbole but within Aidan Baker’s classical excursion, there are far too many gems of old and new to call it anything else. Over the course of one hour, Baker builds a sturdy bridge over a crevice that once relied on the likes of John Cage and Terry Riley as its architects. Old world beauty and futuristic tones can work as one, creating music that is as challenging as it is universal.